Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Improving as a Writer

On The Writer's View 2 e-mail loop, and on a couple of agent/editor blogs I follow, the discussion lately turned towards how writers improve. That writers need to improve, and do improve, was not the subject of the discussion. What they do to result in that improvement was.

I posted to TWV2, saying that my improvement came from a combination of reading books on the art and craft of writing, and from reading the works of other writers and picking them apart. That aspect of being a writer has actually made reading a little less enjoyable. Another item I mentioned was simply the practice of writing led to growth.

But really I can think of other ways I improve as a writer.
  • Critique groups. I've been a member of four different real life critique groups, and five (I think) on-line critique groups. Most of the on-line ones were for poetry. I estimate that I've critiqued at least a thousand poems. I printed many of those critiques and have them in notebooks, waiting to be gone through and perhaps culled and consolidated. I learned so much from critiquing poetry. When I started that, I knew little about poetry, but knew I had to learn and learn fast. So I studied up, was a fast learner, and feel much more confident in my poetic knowledge and abilities.
  • Classes. Most of the ones I've taken have been during writers conferences. I went to one locally that turned out to be something I wasn't expecting. I still have many more to take.
  • Old textbooks. I pick these up at thrift stores for 50 cents or a dollar. I'm slowly working through them as reading time allows (which it hasn't for over a year now). I have gleaned much from these, even the older ones.
  • Writer Networking. This is both on-line in various discussion forums, as well as the few real life writer contacts I maintain. Those contacts include editors and agents as well.
So these are the things I do grow as a writer. I find it interesting that writing is a trade/art/profession at which growth and development is available. Don't know how to write well in English? Study grammar. Don't know how to make it interesting? Study plot and structure. Not grabbing the reader? Study story telling. It's different than for many other artistic professions. The arts that involve the body as well as the mind (the dance, acting, and actually sports) require certain bodily ability. Since we are all limited to the body God gave us—with limited chance to improve—the opportunity to move up to a higher artistic level is limited. I could never have become a major league baseball player or a pro football player or an Olympic track star. I could have done better than I did, but I was not given a body that would allow me to move up in those pursuits.

Certainly improvement in the writing arts, which involve the mind only, will be beyond the reach of some, who were not given complete mental faculties. But for the large majority of people, significant improvement is possible. Whether a large number of people can improve enough to result in becoming published I don't know. Most people won't go to the trouble to try to improve enough for that.

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